Sunday, February 01, 2009

Sri Lanka: Should political solutions suit those living abroad or in comfort - or the actual people who have been suffering over 25 years?

By: Shenali Waduge
Source: Ministry of Defence, Public Security, Law & Order - Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka

With the fall of Mullaittivu, the last of the LTTE held towns it is timely to look forward critically but positively. The LTTE of the 1980s is certainly not the LTTE of present day. The Tamil people who backed the LTTE in the 1980s do not do so now. LTTE cadres enthusiastically joined the movement in the 1980s - today conscription is by force & even resorting to kidnapping.

Those who enjoy filling the LTTE kitty are actually comfortably domiciled abroad & able to gradually bring their families over & so they have little care for the suffering of their own Tamil people cornered into LTTE "territory". There is significant scampering for political solutions before the collapse of the LTTE. It is to avoid the inevitable question that should ask whether political solutions should suit those living abroad or those comfortably living in urban Sri Lanka or the actual people who have been suffering over 25 years?

It is these innocent Tamils whose voices have not been heard despite the flotilla of forces that have disembarked on Sri Lanka on "humanitarian", "peace building", "conflict resolution", "development" initiatives. It is a tragedy that none of the TNA parliamentarians, the Tamil Diaspora or even the urban Tamils of Colombo have appealed to allow these people to lead normal lives. They have been denied normal living conditions; their children denied proper education, their right to live as children & for families to live a happy life. For years, those that cry for an "Eelam" have enjoyed using their own people as bait & it is their welfare that must take precedence first over any political solution. It is indeed a tragedy that even the NGOs/INGOs, the diplomatic corps & other political thinkers have evaded this all important point.

It was in the early 1980s & following the Vaddukkodai Resolution (in 1976) where Tamil politicians actually called upon the Tamil youth to arm & begin an armed struggle. Naturally, it was easy to attract cadres - the youth had their share of grievances & it is crucial that we do not forget the caste factor amongst Tamils - a dominating feature that attracted Tamil low-caste, Christian youths to join the LTTE. Tamils themselves were suffering as a result of Vellala Tamil domination which had far deeper social ramifications.

For propaganda purposes this element was shelved. For a leader who has had no education to boast of has evolved into an astute leader but once his empire went beyond the coastal waters of Sri Lanka & a "Team" of arms procurers, theoreticians, foreign spokesmen etc formed itself, we can but wonder whether it was this combination that eventually led to a few faux pas like the assassination of Rajiv Gandhi as well as a string of blunders - from denying a UNP Government to power to closing the Mavil Aru dam. The blunders eventually became the start of Prabakaran's downfall. 2009 has favored the armed forces, following the capture of Paranthan, it has taken over Pooneryn, Elephant Pass, Kilinochchi & now Mullaittivu subjecting the LTTE & possibly its leader to a small stretch of 20 x 15 area. Suddenly there are voices that have increased the civilian human shields from 200,000 to an unbelievable 400,000 - besides the practicality of keeping such a figure, we are compelled to ask how these figures came about when discounting the 800,000 Sri Lankan Tamils in foreign climes there are only 1.6million Sri Lankan Tamils in Sri Lanka (Note: Indian Tamils are not accounted for).

The defeat of the LTTE is something that has become undesirable unfortunately to some. Who are the guilty who enjoy bombs going off just to blame the Government's inefficiency to protect, who are the guilty who enjoy hearing the deaths of our soldiers to promote the need to continue a farcical Cease Fire Agreement, who are the guilty who wish for the cancer of LTTE rule to continue? To some the calls for thinking patriotic is to agree to all that the present Government aspires to.

Tragically, it should not be so. How many of us are able to objectively view the situation. A covert operation thrust upon Sri Lanka by a "friendly" neighbor, eventually created a problem that realistically speaking none of us accept. Have even the media that professes "impartiality" ever told the world that WE DO NOT SUFFER FROM AN ETHNIC PROBLEM BUT A TERRORIST PROBLEM?

We have had different Governments in power, all with very sound Defence budgets but were they able to deliver the results - did soldiers not die needlessly because the Governments lacked leadership to delegate powers to the military & equip them to protect Sri Lanka? A supposed savior in the form of the CFA was only a timely creation to save the LTTE following the Al Qaeda attack upon the US & the "war on terror" - did this document not carve out territory to the LTTE, allow them to procure arms openly & even kill men of Sri Lanka's intelligence as well as Government politicos, did not the ceasefire have over 3000 LTTE violations & were not our soldiers mercilessly gunned down? Thinking patriotic is actually accepting the LTTE for what they are - a brutal killer force & feeling happy that all rebel territory is now under sovereign Sri Lanka. Nevertheless it has been an enviable task for most Green politicians & their support base to accept that the two years that this Government has been in power - its program to eliminate the LTTE has been successful. The political tassels however force speeches to project that the Governments success lies in their war propaganda though Rajapaksa actually became President during a functioning CFA.

We then have a group of elite Colombo-based "peaceniks" all attempting to promote a quick-fix ahead of the LTTE's fall - their "political solution" naturally echoes what those who fill their pockets desire....they are local spokesman for "political solutions" that will benefit their stake in Sri Lanka. These foreign stakeholders are not likely to be misled by Colombo's "elite peaceniks" yet one wonders why the diplomatic corps at times have overstepped their mandate & combined even to pressurize a Government with the bait of denying them GSP plus thus denying work to over thousands of garment sector employees. In a climate of peace - Sri Lanka's geopolitical importance is likely to thrive...the economic prospects are also looking promising. Thus it is important that we critically analyze the context of these pushes for "political solutions" that realistically does not address the needs of those who deserve the "solutions".

Sri Lanka's urban population makes up just 23.5% of the total population. Unfortunately, it is this percentage that not only enjoys projecting their thoughts but it is they who benefit & the majority are left to make do with what comes their way. Many are likely to mistake the "majority" as connoting "Sinhalese" - by majority it is implied that the public who make up the actual vote base are the Sinhalese, Tamils & Muslims who live in rural Sri Lanka. This majority needs to have improved healthcare, better roads, better facilities, even portable water & electricity, better teachers, better schools etc. These are more important to them than political solutions.

So, when it comes to "solutions" - are we to address the needs & aspirations of the urban or realistically cater to the rural, for to uplift Third World Sri Lanka we need to develop the rural base. It is in this context that we question how far a "separate state", 'a federal solution" & all that is being tabled are likely to solve the ACTUAL NEEDS of the masses?

Given that we live in a Third World Nation, how will even an "Eelam" provide a difference? It is in this context that we question the viability of democratic governance & how far it succeeds in reaping its fruit to the masses - political solutions enviably end up helping the careers of political leaders & the other private parties that combine to work as checks & balances.

What is actually itching the present Opposition alliance is perhaps that combining the military effort is a well-thought out program to develop infrastructure - especially roads & bridges obviously in the eventuality that the Government's future lies in its ability to deliver things that matter. Colombo's elite are perhaps ignorant of the in-roads that the Government has made to deduce that the rural support for the present Government may not be on the Government's military successes alone but the gratitude for the roads that have been built & facilities that have been provided, including programs to absorb injured military personnel into civil society.

Against, this backdrop unfortunately India remains a pervading force. Having not satisfied with itself for creating the mess, India desires to remain the force behind all the decision Sri Lanka's sovereign Government takes. A pressing issue becomes the Tamil Nadu state with its 62million Tamil populace thinking they have every right to speak on behalf of the Tamils in Sri Lanka. Making this scenario far worse is when Sri Lankan Tamil politicos & a few Tamil people make appeals for India's intervention having forgotten the aftereffects of the intervention in 1987 when many Tamil women ended up raped.

If Americans can be proud to be American & think American & likewise all other nations, it is desired that all Sri Lankans should think Sri Lankan & be proud of being Sri Lankan.

Having a foot in Sri Lanka & another in India is hardly likely to result in a successful recipe thus the practical suggestion to ask those Sri Lankan Tamils who feel that only India can address their concerns to be granted citizenship in Tamil Nadu. That would solve a bulk of the problem.

The example of Brittany comes to mind. The people of Brittany (Bretons) are legal residents of France (but are a distinct Celtic ethnic group). They do not speak French but English & follow their own ethnic cultures - yet never has there been an instance that they have made any appeals to Britain. They remain very much a part of France.

In a population of 20million people, many are likely to think that the 74% Sinhalese population have an overbearing control, favored by all Governments & not suffering a single grievance. It is not so, prison statistics will reveal the number of Sinhala prisoners. In another example take from the education system to depict that there are times when even the Sinhalese function as a minority. Private schools in Sri Lanka are all primarily dominated by Christian or Catholics. During admissions it is openly declared that no admission forms will be given to Buddhists. The Buddhists who secure admissions in semi-private schools on the 1% category will soon learn that they must follow all the Catholic/Christian customs applied in the school. Thus, everyone has their own share of grievances in any part of the world. Similarly, all Governments are not without scales of corruption - even the UK has their share of scandals over the years, the US is experiencing one presently in Illinois. Similarly, everyone will have their own opinions - the standardization during Mrs. Bandaranaike's time created a lot of tension - primarily what it did that most forget is to provide education facilities that thus far been denied to Vavuniya, Mannar, Batticaloa - areas that previously only Jaffna Tamils enjoyed.

Looking ahead - we need to break many barriers & mindsets. It has been unfortunate that the two main political parties of Sri Lanka think they must remain eternal adversaries. This naturally has trickled down to their support base who end up thinking green or blue & not taking issues independently to voice opinion on what should suit Sri Lanka above what will politically favor the party's position. In the present scenario of the program to eliminate the LTTE, the Opposition must now be wondering why it did not side with the Government on their resolve to eliminate the LTTE. Sadly, it is these politicized thinkers & their thinking that actually divides the people, aggravates situations & leads to conspiracies that presently dominate.

Sri Lanka is likely to enter a very crucial juncture in our history. The economic plan for Sri Lanka was usurped by India who introduced a terrorist problem to Sri Lanka - yet despite the odds, the country has managed to keep afloat & has done remarkably well considering how other countries function under similar conditions. Many tourists who brave the "advisories" & come leave happy & with the correct picture that Sri Lanka does not suffer an ethnic problem but a terrorist one. It has been the Tamil Diaspora & others who have made good as a result of the conflict who wish to continue the propaganda based on "ethnic", "genocide" "human rights" etc.

We have rarely heard of offsprings continuing terrorist activity & a shrinking LTTE "territory" leaves little hope for the LTTE leader - flee to a foreign land or without cowardice face Sri Lanka's armed forces. Many believe Prabakaran is unlikely to flee but the eventuality that he & his leaders have gone or been saved as was predicted we need to assess the future scenario. From the recent exhibitions & public rallies relayed from Jaffna - we can be confident that the Tamil population has now had enough of Prabakaran & his jungle promises. The flare to escape into the jungles & apply hit & run tactics has now become redundant - the youth now see better futures behind computer screens, education, talent etc...why should they deny themselves the means to nurture their talents & skills just to satisfy an armed struggle that will never benefit them. Did any of these LTTE cadres get the opportunity to study medicine in Ireland, learn aeronautical science or engineering & were they even given a simple birthday celebration? An absent Prabakaran is unlikely to even through intimidation continue his armed struggle & though late the Tamils in these areas that Prabakaran has denied their human rights is urged to say "enough is enough" & signs depict that Prabakaran is likely to fear his people more than the armed forces.

We should agree that political solutions especially of the type that are being promoted need to take 2nd place to providing for the actual needs that need to be addressed. The people of the areas that the LTTE dominated have been denied normal living standards - these people need to feel secure. Their areas have been denied years of development - the LTTE who have been funded by the Tamil Diaspora never for an instance put up portable drinking water, provided electricity to homes without, made roads or bridges - instead they procured arms & deposited monies to their foreign accounts. It is now left for the Government to take on the task of rebuilding & redeveloping these areas & countries that genuinely feel for these people should come forward & pledge their funds for these development drives. The Government may like to hold elections as they did in the East, but it is advisable first for a military team to secure the areas first, allow the people to build trust in the armed forces as an escaped Prabakaran will still leave a volatile space & thus the armed forces require to be stationed throughout the coastal belt to guard against infiltration. Especially since "flying" visits by Indians will become a regular feature until we know the state of Prabakaran & his "leaders".

Thinking positively, we can all move ahead. Those handful of voices who have enjoyed promoting division, hate, terror for their own personal glory need to be replaced with the voices of the majority masses who now believe that we can once again live in harmony now that the LTTE terror has neared its end. Those "nobody's domiciled abroad who enjoy promoting "separatist" or "federal" solutions have had no care for those who actually suffer at the hands of the LTTE. Their only desire being to become a "somebody" in Sri Lanka by aligning with other malicious forces who are out to steer Sri Lanka along their line of thinking only. Solutions that benefit only these handful should be replaced with administrative changes that do not require tinkering of the country's constitution but a diligent public service who need to understand the importance of their role - for it is their inefficiencies & ineffectiveness that make many think that it is part of Government policy. So we urgently need a public service who combine all the ethnic groups to be more alert, more client centric & more helpful in their dealings.

In a developing nation such as ours, now recovering from a 25 year terrorist problem the path ahead is unlikely to be rosy but we need to all put in our efforts to steer Sri Lanka towards prosperity - for the fruits will eventually trickle down to all of us.

Let us all think positively,
Published by Mike Hitchen, Mike Hitchen Consulting
Putting principles before profits